Tanaka deal to set starting-pitcher market in motion
The wait is over.
Masahiro Tanaka has signed with the New York Yankees.
Now the rest of the free-agent pitching pool can start to find a place to call home.
The free-agent pitching market was in limbo until Tanaka decided on the team with which he would sign. There are at least six interesting starting pitchers on the free-agent market, and the agents for the likes of Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, Jason Hammel and Paul Maholm were waiting for Tanaka so they could make sure the teams that came up short in bidding for the Japanese right-hander would have a chance to fill their rotation appetite with a free agent.
That meant a Seattle or Texas or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, among others, weren't involved in the Tanaka sweepstakes but couldn't get anything done with one of the other free-agent pitchers until now.
And they will get competition from the five teams that lost out to the Yankees in the Tanaka sweepstakes -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Jimenez and Santana rejected one-year qualifying offers from their former clubs -- Cleveland for Jimenez and Kansas City for Santana -- which means a team other than their former club signing either pitcher would lose a top Draft choice.
Santana doesn't figure to be affected by that after working 211 innings and compiling a 3.24 ERA in Kansas City. Toronto and Arizona are both believed to have interest in the right-hander.
Jimenez, who struggled for nearly two years in Cleveland before a strong finish to 2013, has found teams reluctant to meet his four-year demand, largely due to the lack of consistency in his career. He could well return for one more year in Cleveland, but it likely won't be for the $14.1 million qualifying offer he declined.
Texas has a definite need for help in its rotation. Yu Darvish and Martin Perez are the only candidates who were in the rotation at the end of last season, and the Rangers' plans were thrown a curve with Derek Holland's offseason injury that led to left knee surgery. They have in-house candidates who have big questions themselves.
Matt Harrison worked 10 innings last year and underwent two back surgeries. Michael Kirkman worked 22 innings in 2013, all in relief. Nick Tepesch made 17 starts as a rookie and earned four victories.
That's why it wouldn't be a shock if the Rangers tried to re-sign Garza or made a run at Jimenez, who came up through the farm system in Colorado, where Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and top aide Thad Levine worked before joining Texas.
Seattle would like a veteran to help carry the load for the returning 1-2 punch of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and to lessen the expectation of top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Garza and Arroyo could both spark interest, along with Pacific Northwest native Hammel.
The Dodgers also could turn to Arroyo to add depth to their rotation.
And now that the question of where Tanaka will sign has been answered, the free-agent pitchers will get a chance to find some answers of their own.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.